What Do The Hamstring Muscles Do?
Tight hamstrings are a common complaint. That ‘tightness’ sensation in your hamstrings might be holding you back on your weekly runs or affecting you in your day-to-day activities. It can be a cause of constant discomfort for some people. The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that run from the sit bones at the bottom of your pelvis to either side of the back of your knee. Together these muscles act by extending your hip and bending your knee.
The hamstrings are also the most commonly injured group of muscles in sport and so if you do enjoy being active, it is important not to ignore that constant feeling of tightness.
The Sensation Of Tightness Might Occur For A Number Of Reasons….
As mentioned the hamstring muscles flex your knee and extend your hip. Therefore, they are working extremely hard when running, especially during faster runs or indeed hilly runs. After a particularly harder or longer run than usual your hamstrings will often feel tight. This is perfectly normal. This sensation of muscle tightness or soreness after strenuous exercise is also known as DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness.
Your hamstring muscles are repairing themselves and getting stronger after the bout of strenuous exercise. It’s important here that you allow your muscles adequate time to recover before your next tough session. That recovery might include an easy slow run, stretching and of course good nutrition and sleep. Some runners can experience a chronic hamstring tightness when they do not let their muscles fully recover between tougher session
Improper Warm Up
Another reason runners can struggle with chronically tight hamstrings is an insufficient warm-up. The purpose of a warm-up is to raise your body temperature and encourage blood flow to the muscles so you are ready to perform. Leaving out a warm-up or not warming up properly may leave you with a sensation of tight hamstrings and as a result, you take longer to settle into your run and get into your stride.
Five minutes of static stretching is not enough to get the muscles warm and ready. You should include a number of dynamic exercises or drills that mimic the running motion for example, leg swings, walking lunges or high knees!
Your Hamstrings Are Weak
Another reason your hamstrings may feel constantly tight is that they are weak and need to be strengthened. Constantly stretching your hamstrings will not relieve this tension. Strengthening your hamstrings has not only been shown to increase the length of the muscles but also to reduce your risk of injury.
What Strength exercises are the best when it comes to strengthening your hamstrings? As mentioned, your hamstrings run from your hip to your knee. Therefore, it’s a good idea to strengthen your hamstrings with both hip and knee dominant movements. The Nordic hamstring exercise is arguably the best exercise out there in terms of minimising your risk of a hamstring injury. It has also been shown to increase the fascicle length of your hamstring muscles. This is a tough exercise and so if you are completely new to it, you should start with about 2 sets of 3-5 repetitions. Another great hamstring exercise would be the Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift, which as opposed to the Nordic is more of a hip dominant movement. This Exercise is also great to add to your warm-up routine.
Your hamstring muscles may not be the root cause. The sensation of tightness in your hamstrings may in fact be coming from neural tissue. The Sciatic nerve travels from your lower back down the back of your leg to supply the hamstring muscles and then onto your lower leg and foot. If you are inactive for long periods of time throughout your day and stuck in the same position you may be experiencing neural tension. Our nerves are happy when our muscles are moving and contracting. They receive adequate blood flow and oxygen. However, sitting all day in the same position for weeks on end can mean your nerves become irritated. This causes a sensation of tightness in your muscles that cannot be stretched. The only way to relieve this tension is to move more throughout your day.
The Nordic Hamstring Exercise
Hamstring strain injuries are the most common muscular injuries in a number of team sports, including Gaelic Football! Unfortunately they also have a high recurrence rate.
A lot of research has looked at the Nordic Hamstring Exercise and its effectiveness in reducing the risk of a hamstring strain. It’s definitely one we recommend you include in your training. Check out the demonstration on this exercise in the video below, there is a simplified version done with a swiss ball which you can use to slowly lower yourself.
How many do you need to do to get the benefits?
It’s a tough exercise and so you should build up your sets and repetitions gradually, taking into account how sore you are the next day (especially if you’re completely new to it).
But the general recommendations are:
Off-Season: 2 sessions a week. 3 sets of 5-6 reps.
In Season: 1 session a week. 2 sets of 4 reps
If you are looking to minimize your risk of injury this Summer, dont hesitate to get in contact